What next for West Ham’s youngsters?

Last month an article on FootballFanCast speculated on whether Tony Carr’s latest crop of West Ham youngsters were getting sufficient playing chances. Only one of the club’s selected under-21 players has gone out on loan so far. Avram Grant may feel a larger squad is necessary and decide to bleed in his young starlets this season. Former Irons boss Gianfranco Zola once delivered a passionate eulogy to some of the club’s emerging young talent, especially James Tomkins. Harry Redknapp warned West Ham not to expect their current youngsters to match the achievements made by Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand. His views were not without foundation but even Sir Alex Ferguson would concede that he is yet to find players who will rival Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham. During pre-season the Manchester United boss said that highly rated youngsters such as Tom Cleverley have to be carefully managed to protect against regression. Accordingly FootballFanCast considers the next steps for four of the Hammers’ young starlets.

James Tomkins

A centre-back who is described as ‘hugely promising’ by the club, he made his Premier League debut in 2007 at Goodison Park. His progression was temporarily halted by a knee injury and he was subsequently loaned to Derby County until the end of 2008, making 7 appearances. He returned to West Ham in 2009 and made 12 league appearances, scoring his first goal at home to Sunderland. He rose in prominence last season especially after the departure of James Collins but did face tough competition from Manuel da Costa. He has been calm, aerially strong, an accurate tackler and has good positional sense. Yet the defender is prone to lapses in concentration and judgement. His erratic back pass allowed Kevin Doyle to pounce and open the scoring for Wolves in their 3-1 away victory last season. He made the same error against Aston Villa this season but Carew failed to capitalise. Grant has yet to find his preferred centre-back pairing but given Tomkin’s capabilities and potential he should feature regularly this campaign.

Junior Stanislas

The winger is another player who has been in and out of the first team but has occasionally sparkled for the club. Having joined the Shrimpers on loan he made his impact at Upton Park in the latter stages of the 2008/09 season. He too scored his first PL goal at home to Sunderland in 2009 and netted the winner which condemned Middlesbrough to relegation on the final day of that season. In addition he made a promising start to last season, scoring two in the League Cup against Millwall and bagged two league goals against Fulham and Burnley. Habitually fielded on the left wing, he often struggles against smarter full-backs and loses possession far too readily. However he frequently poses a goal threat by cutting inside to use his preferred right peg. He has been utilised in a central attacking role for the reserve team which is an option Grant may wish to explore. His hat-trick against a Chelsea reserve team in 2009 showed how dangerous he can be from that position.

Freddie Sears

Local lad Sears must be wondering how long he will have to wait for his second PL goal. He scored on his debut for the club against Blackburn in 2008 but has not found the net for anyone since. Having joined the club at 11 he displayed a natural eye for goal in the youth and reserve teams. That proficiency in front of goal has not occurred in league football despite loan spells at Crystal Palace and Coventry City last season. He had an unmistakable goal disallowed at the Eagles and was repeatedly played on the left flank. He featured fleetingly at the Ricoh Arena as Chris Coleman used his primarily as an impact substitute. The diminutive striker is seen by some as too lightweight but has barely had the chance to succeed given his very brief and intermittent appearances in recent times. Another loan spell at a Championship side is required but contingent on regular games in his preferred forward position.

Frank Nouble

The physique of this young striker is almost the diametric opposite of Sears. This strong, quick and powerful centre-forward joined West Ham after rejecting a professional contract at Chelsea last summer. He signed on a five year deal, motivated by the chance of breaking into their first team squad. He wish appeared to have been granted as he made his PL debut on the first day of last season, replacing Carlton Cole at Molineaux. The striker showcased his talents to the rest of the league when he was thrown in at the deep end at Villa Park. At just 17 he was West Ham’s lone forward in that goalless draw and was a handful for Villa’s experienced defenders. He held the ball up well, shook off the likes of Dunne and confidently made surging runs at their defence. Loans followed at West Brom where he was seldom used and at Swindon where he was deployed on the wing. Patently a special talent, Nouble needs more experience at a Championship or League One side but should return for the second half of this season.

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